By Flora Norton
Eerily familiar and yet wildly unexpected, Australian Realness is a play like no other which subverts the typical Australian Christmas and presents a turbulent and dynamic dissection of both society and reality. Exploring themes from class division, to 90s politics to the superficiality of modern culture the script (Zoey Dawson) is complex and thought provoking and will no doubt leave you and your fellow theatre goes lost in conversation for hours after the conclusion of the play.
Set on Christmas Day, the play follows two families (one bourgeois, one bogan) as they stumble across each other in the midst of the stressful Christmas preparations. Preoccupied by the pressing need to buy a real Christmas tree, the important job of correctly and precisely chopping artichokes and desperate attempts to postpone heated conversations about the future, the family of four are thrown far out of their comfort zone when forced to share their Christmas with the family living in their shed.
The performance by the cast is strong and Greg Stone (both Dads), Linda Cropper (both Mums) and Andre de Vanny (both sons) do a convincing job of playing such similar, and yet contrasting characters simultaneously. The relationship between Cropper and Stone as the bourgeois parents is endearing, comedic and engaging and their incessant bickering, interlaced with moments of affection and nostalgia, no doubt rings true for most couples in the audience. De Vanny should also be commended for playing two exceptionally unlikeable characters with such energy and commitment. Despite deliberate similarities between the two sons, De Vanny still distinguishes between the cokehead banker and the dropkick gangster with refined skill and chilling accuracy.
Emily Goddard is a standout in her performance as the pregnant daughter and portrays her entitlement and misguided pity for the bogan family with conviction. Yet it is when the play takes a dark turn and the genre morphs from comedy into psychological thriller that Goddard’s performance becomes truly chilling.
Perhaps the most memorable aspect of the play was the incredible set design (Romaine Harper) and the fluidity with which it was adjusted and broken down. The play opens on the warm, cosy interior of a middle-class suburban home. Tinsel lines the doorways, wrapped presents have accumulated under a fake Christmas tree and the kitchen is bright and summery. The whole stage resembles a scene out of an 80s sitcom and it seems as if the entire play will take place within this single set. However, by the end of the play not a single wall, table or prop remains on stage and the agility with which this transformation takes place is remarkable.
Despite teetering on the edge of psychological thriller, horror and drama, the play is first and foremost a comedy. Indeed, many of the laughs are achieved by Janice Muller’s extraordinary direction and the incorporation of multiple styles of theatre. Without notice, the play at one point descends into a slapstick silent movie reminiscent of Charlie Chaplain films and, though it takes them by surprise, has the audience erupt with laughter.
Australian Realness is funny, provocative and confusing and will have you looking around at your friends in shock and bemusement. One of the most interesting pieces of theatre I’ve seen this year and at the very least a conversation starter, I would not hesitate for a second to recommend this play to anybody willing to embrace the bizarre and unexpected.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.